Everything is Connected. A Book Review of The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

In every scene of this book, the characters are positioned within their earthly environments. And despite the fact that they are all souls traumatised by violence – either their own or others, or their bodies, or the collapsed post-capitalist world – this narrative positioning of their lives within a world that endlessly envelops them is a comfort. Because it’s our ultimate reality but not our current experience and it’s good to be reminded.

We don’t seem to collectively quite see ourselves as children of the earth yet, a positioning that has been our species’ main experience but one which we’ve only recent centuries been able to prodigally shake off as too much bother. We’re getting back there, though, don’t you think? We are, as Joni Mitchell implored, beginning to get “back to the garden” by force and necessity. Maybe once we stop referring to it as “the environment” will be a hearty indication that the earth’s stopper being an abstraction and instead puffed back around us again.

The characters we meet in The Rain Heron are all beaten and battle-worn, subsisting, some in the military that’s taken over this unnamed country, some trying to avoid them and eke out a sort of survival.

This could be bleak pandemic reading, with the USA on fire and its people being warred upon by its police state force as I write, and the political proponents of the status quo trying to stop the future from finally being born.

But this story, despite its bereftness and its bodily fluids and frozen nervous systems, is not bleak because the land is always here a character, and it weaves through all the happenings and tethers us as readers to the story’s home. Art shows us what we’re missing in a more holistic way than the best comprehensive climate change data cannot

Everything is alive and connected and pansychically active in this fable. Lightning licks trees; the wind uses its fangs to chew barns into splinters. Wounds spit pain, an injured arm is submerged in a creek for pain relief while “thick threads of pus swam away down the stream.”

The rain heron is a bird that comes from the clouds, its body so pale you can see through it. Some of the most beautiful passages of the book describe its movements:

“As if sensing her gaze, the bird launched itself from the tree, trailing rain from its talons. It twirled in the windless air, shaking ice and dew across the clearing and over Ren and her grandmother, drawing from them shivers and shrieks, before falling in a straight, fast dive into the tarn. It disappeared, but it caused no splash, made no ripples. It was as if the bird had become one with the water, rather than sinking beneath its surface.”

The rain heron makes explicit what to the alienated children of capitalism has often been hidden, too implicit to see in our urban worlds, and these were the most delightful parts of the book for me. They are what I most thirst for. The rain heron is a bird that looks just like a heron, only bigger, only bluer, only made out of rain. An elemental made manifest. Like Life Itself. When a young boy tries to grab it, he feels “no feathers – only a sensation of cold liquid, of wetness, of running ice”. The bird sends heat upon the land of those who try to harness her, pecks out their eye. But then one person finally does capture it, as humans are wont or forced to do, caging the uncageable and covering its cage with oil-soaked canvas, to trap what should be free.

The narrative focus shifts to several different characters throughout the story. But it’s the land, overlaid throughout and wrapping round the story that make this novel special. A certain mystery pervades the tale because of it, turning the world into something else other than simply something to mine, to plunder, to build shopping centres on. Not just an Insta backdrop but something alive, its own self, woven deeply into the weft and warp of all our lives. Something complex, alive, deeper than our measuring and categorising, which for most of our history has surrounded our consciousness both as mother and as fearsome destructor. And which we are now being forced to re-engage with on its own terms rather than our masturbatory visions of endless growth. Our home stretches far beyond our narrowed conceptions of linearity. William Blake described our modern thinking well: “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through the.narrow chinks of his cavern.”

This book left behind it a freshness, somehow. A freshness that is the opposite of fragmented tweets and people going hungry while farmers pour out millions of wasted litres of milk to the ground in service to a machine that has never made so little sense as it does now.

The freshness comes from a deep remembrance of our connection to a world that demands our allegiance as re-rounding people reconnecting to her and letting the way we live and the stories we tell be moulded by her.

As the old system burns around us, showing its deficiencies like never before, we are going to need all the strength and beauty and sanity that comes from this connection we can get.

This was a NetGalley read and this review is also on Goodreads

God Help Me During Covid-19 (With Apologies to Redgum)

This is my take on Redgum’s classic I Was Only 19 after hearing Frank Woodley doing his version on our local radio station during the week. This post might not make too much sense if you don’t know the song so here it is. (With deep apologies to Redgum and to anyone whose wild and beautiful life was sliced up from being a soldier in Vietnam and any of America’s other useless wars. No disrespect meant.)

Down to my last bog roll in my local IGA near Puckapunyal (a long march from Airport West). In the first aisle I saw Jamila and Paul and a bunch of strangers with fat full carts stockpiling for their quarantining nests.

I tried to be philosophical as I walked up aisle three. Everybody needs to eat and to keep their botties clean. But what about us locals? We also need our greens, panic-buyers during Covid-19.

From IGA to Safeway and from Coles to Aldi too I’ve been raiding supermarket shelves for days. In aisle seven I met a patient of mine reaching happily for the lone pack of bog roll that glistened like a miragelike haze.

He said, “Can you tell me doctor why I’m racked with anxiety in the 15th richest country and surrounded by plenty? Ha, I think we know the answer to that. It’s the inequality. God help me during Covid-19.”

It’s not like the Vietnam War where each step could be your last one on two legs (it’s just a war for the pasta shelf). And we can’t let our mates down if it’s just everyone for themselves. And so you grab for more without thinking about anyone else.

And then someone yelled out “Four ply!” and the bloke behind me swore. He elbowed my patient aside and grabbed it and ran straight for the door. That’s when I cracked the shits and I began howling to the moon. God help me. Where’ll we be in June?

And I can still see something that is way more egalitarian than acting like inequality is right. And I can still see Scomo saying hoarding’s so unAustralian while they continue taking Big Business’s side.

So let’s not blame the idiots for their panic-buying spree when 40 years of neoliberalism has killed our solidarity. This is our opportunity to remember we’re who we need. We’re relearning that from Covid-19.

A doctor can’t prescribe us an egalitarian society. And my, the Channel 7 News won’t show us people can be free. That away from the global system we can relearn interdependency for a new start after Covid-19.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

I’m Just Sitting Here Watching the Numbers Roll Round and Round

I really love to watch them roll.

It’s 10am in New York and here I sit, in the dark in Australia at 1am. I should go to bed but instead I’m having the most wonderful time of hitting refresh every 5 minutes on the GoFundMe page set up 13 hours ago to pay Chelsea Manning’s court fines. Already it’s at just over $61,000.

Imagine fining someone $1000 every day they’re in jail just because you’re sociopaths who know their time is running out.

But anyway, I don’t want to focus on the disgusting nature of those fines. It is getting boring witnessing the extent of evil that craven people will commit upon others in the name of holding the bulging carcass of empire together.

Instead I am just filled with pure bubbling joy watching the tally update after every five minutes. Five hundred bucks, 1000, 400, 700. Who knows how many countless people from around the world dropping small and big dollars into the coffers of someone so brave that it just simply takes my breath clear away?

What a beautiful thing watching this from my couch in the dark. It feels a little bit quiet and just a little bit holy.

Chelsea, may those dollars surround you like a robe and comfort you, fill you up with space and time in which to heal from the trauma foisted on you by a blind, evil, greedy, dying state. You’re amazing.

Image by Keyla1, free for personal use

The Big Things and the Small Things

Humans are terrified of change. We will do anything to stop it. Even when every single particle of every single piece of matter is telling us that times are changing and we must not sit down in the road and refuse to budge. That we are able to roll with the changes if we are moving. We could maybe even dance. The times are changing again. As they always have. The zeitgeist always changes.

And that is the only consolation I have when I see people who appear to be unable to choose life choose death. People who will feel the effects of things staying as they are nevertheless voting for things to stay as they are. Voting for people cashed up enough to be able to see this disgusting and immoral system as a game, who are happy to play a role in bringing countless bits of legislation into being to benefit hungry ghosts who need more profit, more profit, more. More. More.

Then I think of all the young people, standing in line to vote for a candidate who provably, over decades, has shown a desire for all people to flourish.

Then I think of the people who are so desperate to beat Trump that it’s put blinkers on them so that they are going down exactly the same road that got Trump elected in the first place.

I think of how we know that the DNC primary in 2016 was rigged. We know because Wikileaks told us, which is partly why Julian Assange is in jail awaiting the next edition of his kangaroo court appearance. We see now, in this primary, the bizarre twist as Biden – a pro-war, status-quo endorser with a spent lifeforce who will do nothing to bring Medicare For All and everything to continue the inequality divide – suddenly take South Carolina.

Then we see the media jump behind him as if they were just primed and waiting, then an avalanche of former candidates jump in line behind them. We see vast discrepancies in exit polls and results. We see young people lining up for hours and hours and hours.

And suddenly we see everything has shifted unquestioningly towards Biden, who will not beat Trump. We see the invisible fabric of power has settled like a cloak around Biden, like the emperor’s new clothes.

It is 2016 all over again, only this time is sadder because we know what happened then. We know the app was dodgy in Iowa. We know Sanders, who had the most small individual donations of any candidate in history, was a tsunami.

But now apparently it’s because the black voter in the rust belt has an overwhelming need to vote against the candidate who was arrested for a civil rights march before I was born and who stands for the minimum wage and proper healthcare and for the candidate who stands for nothing.

The DNC is apparently considering not having a debate. It must be because they know Sanders will wipe the table with Biden, who is displaying, according to many who have firsthand experience in what early dementia looks like, exactly those tendencies.

It is now unfashionable to declare that this election is quite possibly being rigged against Sanders. Going by the feel on Twitter, many Dem voters seem almost relieved to be backing Biden. Nothing like easing your frazzled nerves by voting for more of the same.

And nothing quite so repulsive as the centrist in progressive clothing. I suspect that many people would rather just lie down and be shocked rather than vote for someone who the different bastions of power are telling them is “wrong”. Better to go with the consensus than with the only candidate advocating for a halt to the relentless neoliberal zombie fire sale and a return to a society where people are ahead of profit.

It is impossible now to separate out the people voting for barbarian scenarios and those instigating them. But I fear those voters for something better in Bernie will give up and lie down and not vote from here on. Because the pain for them is multiple. They are not only seeing it slip away but they’re seeing in real time what some can’t or refuse to see – the puppet strings still so easily pulled to deny the future to those who must live it. It’s seeing people who must also dance the puppetmasters’ dance acceding to the narrative and blaming Bernie bros, who don’t even fucking exist, because ot’s less emotional work than blaming themselves for their inability to work through the cognitive dissonance that comes when you actually can see the invisible dragon’s breath in action. Easier instead to project it onto the people who have most learned about how power works.

Let’s remember that there’s nothing Bernie is proposing that hasn’t been done before.

Look, I think I’m an anarchist anyway; ie, I don’t think this stinking worm-ridden carcass is going to be resurrected from within. I just was hoping a few less Americans might die cos they can’t get their diabetic medication. The carcass shall lurch on if Sanders doesn’t get thw nomination with Trump as president. And the Clinton/Biden voters will apparently fail once again in 2024 to see beyond their own noses.

Whatever. Fuck it all. I took solace in the majesty of Kate Tempest yesterday and I think it is required to do so again today.

I love the feeling in my body when I forget how crap I’m feeling, cloggy head and frizzy nervous system, and move for a bit from contemplations of power and tune into the cat’s gravelly purrs.

Wrap the Tempest words and the cat’s purrs around me. Go to the library for more not-e-books. Feel the last of the summer ☀ on my face and see the beauty of the trees.

It was long considered in Australia a rather grim take, to gain solace in the cold comfort that everything ends. It was morbid to speak of death. So odd. But Buddhist influences have made it a bit more palatable than it once was. I think this thought, that everything ends, was one of the reasons I loved Six Feet Under so much. Maybe it’s timw to revisit for a fourth go-around.

I loved the way it brought together two ideas that should never have been split: that everything matters and that everything ends. The two make for a most beautiful complementarity and create deep wisdom. Whatever happens, after caronavirus, after the US empire, after capitalism, there will be something else.

After the darkness dies because there is no light left to consume, then the light returns. And the cycle begins again.

End Kali Yuga. End.

Game, Capitalism

I wrote a thing for the good folks at Flood Media in Brisbane. It was about Channel 9’s broadcast sponsors of the Australian Open.

An exceedingly rich sport whose players unblushingly do ads for a company (UberEats) whose workers can’t make ends meet? Yes, a problem there. A bank which by default perpetuates the extremes that have resulted in climate change telling people how to manage their money? No, unfair and really quite on the nose.

We need a new way of doing money, new currencies, local currencies. We need a new internet, new apps. All owned by the people, by us.

I can recommend Flood’s new podcast as well. Their latest episode was a fun convo imagining what life after capitalism may or could or should look like. If you are a leftist Australian starving to death from our low-nutrient national polotical conversation, you might like it too.

The Manufactured Political Narrative That Turns Into a “Gut Feel”

This guy just had a gut feel that he should vote for Biden. A gut feel.

That’s how it pans out, isn’t it. It begins with the corporate media massaging your worldview into a particular perspective. Feature article after article about one candidate and hardly the other. When the other is mentioned, don’t talk about how all of his policies have been uncontroversially done before. Instead insert the words that for half a century have been trained into your people as a Pavlovian response. Socialist. Mention them without reminding people of the way your parliamentary system is structured so that no matter people’s paranoia you can’t take over the centre of capitalism quite that easily.

See the other candidates drop out and endorse him. See the invisible cloud of electability build up around him simply from other establishment people saying he’s electable. Rather like the emperor’s clothes.

See the people on Twitter rail against those who are angry. See them declare themselves as progressives because even centrists know now that their moderate position is on the nose.

See the people on Twitter get angry at those intolerant Bernie bros. How dare you tell me I can’t vote for Biden, that there’s only one way, they say. I’m a progressive but I can’t stand the bad thing someone I don’t know on Twitter said about my low information voting. That can’t be true because it doesn’t feel true. I’m a progressive and I can vote for the status-quo-enforcing, anti-black policy-making, welfare payment-reducing, pro-war hack if I want to. And I’ll do it because I decided to. Not anyone else. I decided to.

First They Came For Assange

(Apologies, Martin Niemöller)

First they came for the cyber-anarchist journalists and I did not speak out because I was not a cyber-anarchist.

Then they came for the socialist journalists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the anti-austerity journalists protesting the unemployed industrial complex, and I did not speak out because I was not an unemployed piece of meat in the unemployed industrial complex moneymaking machine.

Then they came for the asylum seeker journalists, and I did not speak out because I was not an asylum seeker.

Then they came for the renegade economics journalists, and I did not speak out because I was not a renegade economist.

Then they came for the climate change journalists, and I did not speak out because I was not a climate change journalist.

Then they came for the journalists criticising their national governments if they’re aligned with the US empire, and I did not speak out even though I was a citizen of a government kowtowing to the US empire.

Then they came for the great influx in 2028 of the we-don’t-believe-capitalism-can-fix-the-problems-of-climate-change journalists, and I didn’t speak up because I’d retreated into the hard glaze of the dystopia of the world plutocracy that was now really insane because it was almost out of ways to oppress the people it was depending on without killing them.

Then they came for the journalists selling lifestyle products that didn’t come from the Disney Glaxo Smith Kline Amazon Walmart cosmetics lab, and I didn’t speak out because I had given up wearing any makeup because of my severe depression from living in the plutocracy.

Then they came for me—and I never heard them coming because there was no one left to warn me, and I’d forgotten, in my digital haze, that they were people out there sociopathic enough to do that kind of shit.

The Assange case matters. Whatever your thoughts may be about him personally, the US is trying to lock him up forever because he told us about the depths of their depravity. This is what journalists do. What the US is doing is illegal. If they are allowed to get away with this it will set a precedent that will be hard to come back from.

Satisfying Stories With Satisfying Endings

So much of our lives are lived in the neverending present, where everything’s fluorescently lit and it’s all a straight line on the one hand but a fragmented one on the other. Everything compressed down to the same size box and strung together out of sequence. Frustrating enough for storytelling and meaningmaking creatures but the lack of chiaroscuro and height and depth renders our beautiful world down to something that can look not even worth saving, in certain moods. Exactly the opposite of what we alienated creatures need as the earth asks us to return to her and to sensibility.

I’m not in a nihilistic mood myself right now; I am really just so fucking sick of living in someone else’s nihilism, the narrative constructed by psycopathic profiteering hungry ghost plutocrat babies. Pah and fuck them.

The neverending hydroponically-lit present is in contrast to the sort of Now we’re all gagging for, the space we seek to better flow and float in when we, say, practise meditation. That Now is the flipside – it’s ever-changing, morphing, moving from dark to light to dark to light, in and out, up and down, on and off and all of the spaces in-between.

I’ve been unwell again this week and so have a bad fucking attitude, even though I had something published on Independent Australia (please click over to it; even if you don’t have the time and/or inclination to read about Bernie Sanders, the more clicks, the more chance I’ll have of reaching the coveted amount of eyeballs that will garner me $150, which is a piddling amount but nevertheless $150 more than I have right now. And GOD I HATE ASKING PEOPLE TO READ MY STUFF IT IS SO FUCKING DEMEANING TO ME). But anyway.

I was also able this week to get a short story written from the comfort of the couch, the effort of which has made me feel worse but also much, much better. It is in higgledy piggledy first draft form but it is, quite likely, going to be finished and it may, with a bit of luck and the Sun in Uranus, become a satisfying shape once I’ve picked it up and added some shading and put it down again.

I love having written a short story. What I love most of all – and I can’t emphasise enough how beloved this is to me – is how when I’m stuck in the middle of writing it, and I lay the story down, and lay my body down, and then later on, hours or days, go and have a shower (the great temple of the great goddess of flowing insight) and the ending pops in, fully formed. Or the shape of it, at least. It’s been bubbling away on low heat, away from my consciousness, and then in it comes like a gift from myself to myself.

It never doesn’t feel magical. It always has the effect of making me feel bigger and more mysterious and wonderful to myself. It is a re-enchantment. And a self-esteem boost to. A reconnection.

So I’m feeling both re-enchanted and also sour-faced like someone who’s been couchbound for a whole week. A light and dark week indeed.

I came across just the best short story yesterday. It’s an under-two minute video in which the story told itself, narrated by life unfolding. It is the tale of a phone that accidentally (I presume) fell out of a plane while recording. That’s a good enough story, really. The phone survived the fall to earth after a dizzyingly spinny freefall. But then, like many good stories, there was an unexpected twist at the end that just tickled my fancy.

Regeneration

This is the second time in a row of tactile analogue borrowing, rather than the e-flat from home, where the book is conveniently on the screen but stifling.

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

She sits outside after borrowing Lanark, with Six Bedrooms and March on impulse because borrowing books makes her feel rich.

The public library is a radical act, making poor-purrs full up on words.

The library is growing a new veggie patch outside. Picked produce sits just inside the door, on a “please take” table.

These small shoots of renewal but still
you don’t look at her. We don’t need to look at each other anymore and so to do so now is something larger, something new to our history, a look from one analogue eye into another grown so large and intimate that you may as well be fucking right there on the ground in front of the library.

Don’t we know an analogue nod between strangers contains 56% of our daily riboflavin needs?

We don’t know but our nervous systems know. We are built for that made unnecessary and embarrassing.

She watches on the bench outside as you walk with your grandchild past her towards the door, say, “Look!” at the patch. The young girl is enthused, you can hear it in her voice, because kids know the value now of broccoli and community and food prep and cooking healthy, and there’s another emerald green shoot of renewal.

What they don’t know is the value of a stranger beyond their danger.

She saw jowls beginning today. She tries not to care about already-here invisibility, but to embrace instead the crone. There is freedom waiting beyond the vanity. She thinks of cultures who vaunt healers. It’d be good to be an elder. But no positions are vacant.

If the crunch comes, we are it for each other. We are it anyway. Margaret’s societal dictates were stupid but diabolical, the beige banality of connections determined by greedy fucks with investment portfolios and positions on the boards of Disney Glaxo Smith Kline Walmart Amazon.

Strangers are the stitches for the new fabric.

Don’t you know she could eat your grandkid if the changes are bad and she gets really hungry, and the strangerness makes her twisted and nasty like a Disney witch, and the grandkid’d taste delicious roasted like chicken?

Don’t you know in Auschwitz someone rushed in and said everyone should come see the sunset.

Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colours, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be…

Fire Outside, Fire Inside

Although I’m on the couch today, and was also on the couch yesterday and the day before, there is no denying that I have had some improvement over the last several months since I’ve begun taking CBD oil.

Although I’m still a hermit, there have been several ventures out into the big, beautiful world in recent months, along with a bit of an uptick in writing, and I’ve been truly stunned and amazed and a little disoriented at how it feels to suddenly be able to even contemplate doing more. Even though it’s not nearly enough to stop me from feeling mentally wobbly and occasionally perimenopausally fucking nuts, to be able to over the past six weeks attend a funeral, a Christmas Day lunch, a drive to stay overnight with a friend I haven’t seen for a few years, and a lunch/art gallery/Jells Park walk with my mum is pretty massive for me.

This reducing of inflammation on the inside of my body has train-tracked alongside the escalation of inflammation burning up large tracts of my country on the outside of my body. It’s made for a bewildering and somewhat sombre summer, a constellation of beginnings and endings and small pleasures. Dark griefs at the loss of animal life and landscape and people and houses and businesses and Aboriginal culture, and a deep terror that the gains I’ve made will disappear and an understanding of how deeply being so constrained has traumatised me.

I read something the other day where a woman was talking about feeling guilty for feeling personal grief that her dog had died when there was so much public grief going on in the country.

I get where she’s coming from but I don’t share that guilt. I feel guilt for many things but not the idea that we must continually rent our clothes and publicly perform our grief constantly and not feel anything else. We are not a monocrop.

There’s enough totalitarian bullshit going on without feeling like you have to ask the world’s permission to grieve your dog or, for that matter, to find pleasure in a cup of tea or enjoy your boat cruise in the rivers of France or to find yourself laughing when yesterday you felt like that you’d been living that lyric from Jack and Dianne for 30 years, where life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.

I dunno. I feel sad that we all feel so constrained, so judged by other equally flailing and amygdala-bulging judgmental humans. Why do we give other people so much power? Is this something to do with social media? Why do we feel like we must squish ourselves down into an avatar-icon of space, to make ourselves so easily readable that like a brand with an appropriately-fonted logo people we don’t even know in real life will find us acceptable? Whatever is wrong with sitting on a pile of pottery shards suicidally scratching your weeping sores one minute only to be laughing gustily at something an hour later? Some might say that’s insanity but I say a full life has a vast emotional range and living is a complication and a paradox.

Speaking of biblical references to Job, I find myself in the odd position of having had two things published here in Australia in the last fortnight, both sort of about God.

It’s a bit odd to me because writing about spiritual matters has not really been at the forefront of my mind in recent times, so it’s a bit coincidental that these two have this same connection.

The first piece on Independent Australia I wrote not so much directly about God as about my history of grappling with and discarding the idea of hell as whack. I wrote it when pondering how a belief that most people are going to hell forever must weigh against Scott Morrison effectively governing, let alone it coming on top of his capitalistic bullshit idea that there is no need to serve society at all, considering the market to be tge most important thing at all.

The second piece Eureka Street has put up today, which is riffing off some toilet graffiti about how God goes better wrapped in poetry and mystery, given the ways humans behave when we get dogmatic and dogmatic.

I also have a short story coming up in the almost-released latest issue of Sudo Journal but that’s not so much about God as it’s about snail copulation and a badly-behaving mother of the bride 🙂